only too....to and too....not to

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Doggie doggie

Senior Member
chinese
What is the different between "only too....to " and "too....not to"?
One of my friends told me they are the same, is that right? could you please give me some examples? Thanks in advance
 
  • Forero

    Senior Member
    These constructions are very different. The meanings are different, and as far as I know you could not substitute words that work with one into the other and make any sense:

    I am too tired not to fall asleep if I lie down.
    This means I will fall asleep if I lie down because I am so tired.

    I would be only too happy to oblige.
    This means I would very much enjoy doing as you have asked.

    "Only too ... to" is of limited use and is pretty much a fixed expression. "Only" does not really make sense in front of "too", but the meaning of "only too" in this expression is something like "quite" (an understated intensifier).

    Do you have sample sentences where these two constructions might have similar meanings?
     

    ATLGradStudent

    Senior Member
    English - American
    If I understand your question, you are asking if sentences like these would have the same meaning:
    "The race is only too easy to finish."
    "The race is too easy not to finish."
    The answer is yes, the both have the same general meaning -- the race is exceptionally easy and it would be almost impossible for you to fail to finish the race.

    Sometimes, in American colloquial speech, you might hear the construction in the second example used with "to not" reversed. As in:
    "The race is too easy to not finish."
    The speaker will make clear that it means the same thing as the earlier examples by stressing the "easy" with his/her voice. If the speaker did not stress that word, or if you were reading the phrase, you might assume that the race is actually so difficult that you would be expected to fail. Again, this would probably be used only in speech, and I would not recommend trying it unless you have an excellent feel for the spoken language.
     

    ATLGradStudent

    Senior Member
    English - American
    These constructions are very different. The meanings are different, and as far as I know you could not substitute words that work with one into the other and make any sense:

    I am too tired not to fall asleep if I lie down.
    This means I will fall asleep if I lie down because I am so tired.

    I would be only too happy to oblige.
    This means I would very much enjoy doing as you have asked.

    "Only too ... to" is of limited use and is pretty much a fixed expression. "Only" does not really make sense in front of "too", but the meaning of "only too" in this expression is something like "quite" (an understated intensifier).

    Do you have sample sentences where these two constructions might have similar meanings?

    These are interesting examples. I didn't get a chance to read them before I posted. I would agree with Forero that changing the construction in the first example to "I am only too tired to fall asleep if I lie down" makes no sense to me.

    In the second example, though, I would be too happy not to oblige. Would imply that you would be so happy that you would be unable to say no to someone's request. On the other hand, if it was changed to "I would be all to happy not to oblige," it would mean exactly the opposite.

    I have no idea how we account for these differences in meaning.
     

    Doggie doggie

    Senior Member
    chinese
    By reading your explanations, I got it already. I can simply think only too= quite, so I can understand the whole sentence clearly
    The race is only too easy to finish = The race is quite easy to finish = The race is too easy not to finish
    Am I right? thanks
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    I still see a difference in meaning.

    "The race is only too easy to finish" means it is quite easy to finish, in other words that finishing it would be no problem at all, but "The race is too easy not to finish" means that it is so easy one would "have to" finish it.
     

    ATLGradStudent

    Senior Member
    English - American
    I still see a difference in meaning.

    "The race is only too easy to finish" means it is quite easy to finish, in other words that finishing it would be no problem at all, but "The race is too easy not to finish" means that it is so easy one would "have to" finish it.
    I agree that there is probably this fine difference in meaning, but I'm not sure it has much effect on how we use it in context. Strangely, the cases in which we usually the "too...not to" construction is in cases where there is doubt.

    For example, Jim and Mark are running a marathon together:
    Jim: "I can't go on, my legs are too tired."
    Mark: "You have to go on. This race is too easy not to finish."

    It means you "have to" finish, but is usually used in cases where not finishing seems a very real possibility.
     

    Franzi

    Senior Member
    (San Francisco) English
    It means you "have to" finish, but is usually used in cases where not finishing seems a very real possibility.
    I've seen it used in situations where someone is already planning to do something. "These chocolates are too good not to finish!" It just means you have an obligation to do [whatever] because something has [some property]. You could choose to do it or choose not to do it, but you ought to.
     

    ATLGradStudent

    Senior Member
    English - American
    I've seen it used in situations where someone is already planning to do something. "These chocolates are too good not to finish!" It just means you have an obligation to do [whatever] because something has [some property]. You could choose to do it or choose not to do it, but you ought to.
    That is a good point. But then we are back to Foreno's earlier example about being tired, which does not have the sense of obligation.
     
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